Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh
chris_walsh

If wishes were fishes: about the end of Disney's Aladdin

Got reminded of the fun and cleverness of the Disney version of Aladdin, a now (whoa) 19-year-old film that I've always gotten a kick out of.

Two of the writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, went on to such also-fun work as The Mask of Zorro and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. (They also, if I remember correctly, wrote an unused script for a planned American Godzilla that had Godzilla coming ashore at San Francisco, getting subdued, corralled and tranquilized, and -- I've always liked this image -- getting carried by a fleet of helicopters to a base for study. Godzilla broke out, of course, and attacked New York, because an American Godzilla just HAD to hit New York. Even Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin realized that.)

Elliott and Rossio also have been online since the 1990s, talking about their work in a great amount of detail. Google found for me this page where they discuss story issues on Aladdin.

F'r'instance, in September 1998, Ted Elliott said this about the final scene of Aladdin:
Visceral logic, as opposed to intellectual logic, is a shorthand way of reminding ourselves that plot -- no matter how clever or flawlessly logical -- in and of itself is not interesting unless there is an emotional context for it.

Likewise, it is sometimes not necessary to fill in the blanks in a plot if the emotional context does not demand it.

An example of this in our own work: the ending of Aladdin. The dilemma/decision Aladdin faces is whether to honor his promise to Genie (wish him free) or marry Jasmine (which he can only do by wishing to become a prince).

Given the intellectual logic of the plot, there was a really simple solution to this. It had been established that if someone else takes possession of the lamp before the previous owner has used all of their wishes, the previous owner still gets his un-used wishes (Aladdin uses two wishes, Jafar gets the lamp and uses three wishes, Aladdin gets the lamp back and still has one wish to left). So, when faced with the dilemma/decision of how to use his last wish, Aladdin could have just handed the lamp to Jasmine, let her make three quick wishes (including making him a prince), then the Sultan, Abu, the carpet -- and then used his last wish to free the Genie.

Kinda ruins the whole dilemma/decision scenario, doesn't it?

However, by focusing on the characters' emotions (and how the audience feels about the characters), we didn't even have to address this situation. The audience likes Aladdin, and is rooting for him to do the right thing. The audience likes the Genie, and wants him to get what he wants. In an earlier scene, where Aladdin reneged on his promise, the Genie is genuinely hurt (one of the story artists on Aladdin really liked the fact that it was the first time he ever got to board scenes where two characters who liked each other actually got mad at each other in ways that genuinely mattered to the plot, citing both this scene and an earlier one where Jasmine realizes that Aladdin's been lying to her).

Anyway, back on point: since the emotional context for Aladdin's dilemma had been clearly established, the intellectual logic cited above didn't matter. Handing the lamp off to others would have been logical within the plot, clever, and possibly even funny -- but it would have lessened the emotional impact of the scene, the characters, and Aladdin's decision. While we were aware of the intellectual logic of the scene, it was the visceral logic -- what the audience was feeling or wanted to feel -- that carried the day: Aladdin made a promise, the Genie is depending on him to keep that promise, what will Aladdin do?

We opted to follow the visceral logic of the plot. We then followed it up with another moment of visceral logic when the Sultan re-writes the laws so that Jasmine can marry Aladdin irregardless of him being a Prince. It made emotional sense that, after the experiences of the story, the Sultan would come to this decision (he cared deeply for his daughter, and wanted to make sure she would be 'taken care of' when he was gone; Aladdin certainly proved himself capable of that, among other things). This viscerally logical turn of the Sultan's character allowed us to dispense with the 'intellectual logic' problem of the law, as well as have even another moment of emotional/visceral logic: Aladdin does the right thing, and is rewarded in an unexpected way.
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